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Vaccine baiting program designed to reduce rabies virus

Base workers, residents urged to be aware of the threat during summer

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Summer is upon us and among other threats common to the season, rabies is one of the most frightening.

That's why each season the past three years MacDill has carried out a vaccine baiting program designed to lessen the chance of the dreaded disease in the base raccoon and fox populations. Aerial helicopter drops of vaccine impregnated bait cubes were made in February and while it never is clear just how many of the smelly fish-flavored morsels get consumed, it is a safe bet MacDill is safer from the life-threatening virus, said Lt. Col. Yolonda Geddie, 6th Public Health Flight commander.

"They work," she said of the baits, adding that while she can't make the claim herself, some environmental health officials have estimated effectiveness rates of up to 75 percent.

The baits, which are harmless to any other animals that might eat them, including dogs and cats, contain an oral dose of vaccine in liquid form inside a pouch at the center of the bait. Raccoons, foxes and other wildlife are prone to gobble them down including the vaccine while many dogs and cats are likely to be more picky, said Colonel Geddie. Not that they would be harmed if they consumed the entire thing. But she added that a dog or cat that is known to have consumed one of the baits should not be considered vaccinated against rabies and should receive annual shots, as usual.

MacDill has not had any cases of reported rabies but there always is a first time, Colonel Geddie said. The baiting procedure helps reduce the odds but are no substitute for common sense and sound practices if an animal is believed to be infected.

"If someone sees a raccoon out in the middle of the day they should report it," she said, adding that the animals normally are out of sight during daylight hours. The same goes for foxes, particularly if they seem sick or approach people without showing fear. Rabies causes dementia in animals, often causing them to abandon caution and approach people and populated areas they normally avoid. If they should bite, scratch or otherwise injure and human, precaution calls for a series of inoculations against the killer virus if it cannot be determined the animal is safe.

Stray dogs and cats also pose a risk and anyone encountering either should take care to be aware of the risks, particularly if the animal is acting odd or sick.

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